Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

December 13, 2011

Leave Memphis alone

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:24 am

A little over a month ago I tipped off the new season with my annual voice of doom piece on an overrated team. The voice of doom piece (hereafter VOD) is good for everyone involved. It smashes the champagne bottle across the bow of the new season, as it were. It enrages fans of whichever team I write about, and generates lots of page views as enraged fans encourage one another to yell at this Gasaway character. And, at least the past two years, those crazy herd-minded pollsters have made the VOD piece really easy to write. Through no fault of their own Kansas State was egregiously overrated (No. 3) in the preseason last year, and so too was Memphis (No. 9) this season.

We are now in week 6 of the season for polling purposes, and Josh Pastner‘s team has dropped out of the top 25 completely, following Sunday’s 76-72 loss at home to Murray State. I have decided to mark this occasion by inaugurating a new annual follow-up feature, which I’m calling my voice of reason piece (VOR — what a concept!). I think people are overreacting needlessly to the spectacle presented by Memphis playing at more or less the level that should have been expected of them in the first place.

The Tigers are 5-3, with wins over Belmont, Tennessee, and Miami. Their losses are to Michigan, Georgetown, and those aforementioned Racers. On paper this is still the best team in Conference USA by a wide margin. Will Barton is having an outstanding year. For a 6-6 featured scorer to hit 61 percent of his twos against the competition that Memphis has played is remarkable.

Now, is this team’s strange lethargy on the offensive glass troubling? Is Tarik Black‘s odd foul-prone regression in offensive rebounding curious? You bet! But every team has worries like that, and even with such worries the Tigers are aligned to win the C-USA regular-season title outright.

The stated rap on Pastner is that he’s a fantastic recruiter but his teams underperform. Define “underperform.” We got to see many of these same players log 1,075 possessions in C-USA last year, and what we’re seeing so far this season follows that performance arc with admirable fidelity. I think the real (implied) rap on Pastner is simply that he’s not as good a coach as John Calipari was by the time Calipari left Memphis. This is true. Of course Calipari wouldn’t be as good as 2009-vintage Calipari if you hired him at age 31.

Memphis is ritually praised as “talented,” and so they are, but if the next NBA draft were held this afternoon we might see one Tiger, freshman Adonis Thomas, go in the (late) first round. Seen by the proper lights the Tigers are fine so far, and letting Murray State jump out to an 11-2 lead to open the game might turn out to be a valuable lesson. Don’t bury the team or hot-seat the coach just yet.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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